Is Plant Food Poisoning?
Plant food—also known as plant fertilizer—is commonly used on plants
in homes or gardens. Such fertilizers keep plants healthy and allow them to grow
Plant foods can be hazardous to people
and pets through physical contact, inhalation, or accidental ingestion. It is
safe to use fertilizers on nonedible plants, but you should always be cautious
when handling and storing them. If you want to fertilize edible plants, you
should ask a professional for advice about which products to buy.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers’
annual report, there were nearly 2,000 reported cases of poisoning from indoor
household plant fertilizer in 2010 (AAPCC, 2010). Including the instances caused by outdoor
and unknown fertilizers raises the number to 6,300 cases in 2010 (AAPCC, 2010).
The majority of cases were accidental
poisonings in children under 5 years of age.
What Causes Plant Food Poisoning?
Plant fertilizers can poison people
and pets if they are inhaled or accidentally ingested. Touching the fertilizer
may cause skin irritation, and ingesting it may be poisonous. The ingredients
that cause the poisoning are nitrates.
the Environmental Protection Agency, nitrates are a form of nitrogen that
plants can easily absorb. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth, but it can be
very dangerous when present at high levels in humans. Within our bodies,
nitrates lower the ability of the red blood cells to carry and deliver oxygen (EPA, 2012).
Symptoms of Plant Food Poisoning
If you come into physical contact with plant fertilizers, you may
develop the following symptoms:
- skin redness
- burning sensation on the skin
- itchy skin
- burning of the nose, eyes, or throat
If you ingest plant fertilizers, you may have these symptoms:
- body parts (such as your fingernails, lips, or hands) turning blue
from lack of oxygen
- low blood pressure
- shortness of breath
- upset stomach or stomach pain
What to Do If You Are Poisoned By Plant Food
If you believe you have been poisoned by plant food, you should call
the national poison control center immediately. The number is (800)-222-1222.
You should also seek medical help. When the paramedics arrive, be sure to tell them:
- which fertilizer
you were exposed to
- whether it
was inhaled, ingested, or touched
- how much of
the material you came in contact with
- when the
If the plant
food was inhaled, get fresh air immediately.
If the plant
fertilizer is in your eyes or on your skin, flush thoroughly with water for at
least 15 minutes.
If you ingested the substance, do not
induce vomiting unless the poison control center says that you should. You
should drink water or milk, unless the poison control center advises against it.
Don’t drink anything if you are vomiting. This could lead to choking or
drowning. The same guidelines apply if you are providing care to a poisoning
victim who is vomiting or unconscious.
The poison control center may advise
you to go to the hospital. Once there, the staff will assess the severity of your
They may run tests to check for methemoglobinemia.
In this condition, the nitrate binds to the hemogoblin in your blood. Normally,
hemogoblin is the compound that allows the blood cells to carry oxygen
throughout your body. When you have methemoglobinemia, your blood cannot adequately
circulate oxygen, causing a bluish tint in the oxygen-starved areas. Since
methemoglobinema is more common in infants, it is sometimes called “blue-baby
necessary, doctors at the hospital may give you medications, breathing support,
or liquids intravenously.
Outlook for Plant Food Poisoning
Your ability to recover from plant food poisoning depends on the following
- what type of fertilizer you came into contact with
- how much fertilizer you inhaled, ingested, or
- how much time passed before you sought medical help
you seek help, the better your chances of recovery. Remember to always call
your doctor or the poison control center if you think you or a loved one may be
suffering from plant food poisoning. It can be fatal if not treated promptly.